Jungfateh Singh: Beyond Remembrance - The Sikh Community's Call To Action Against White Supremacy
"These harrowing chapters [Surrey Sikh Gurdwara, Oak Creek, and Indianapolis FedEx] aren't isolated “aberrations” but rather interrelated strands [of white supremacist attacks against Sikhs]."
August 10, 2023 | 10 min. read | Opinion
In 1998, five "White Power" members (a white supremacist skinhead organization) entered the Surrey Sikh Gurdwara grounds and murdered 65-year-old sevadar Nirmal Singh Gill as he opened the gurdwara's gates. He would be abandoned there, battered and bloodied, to die later that day in the hospital. In their prosecution, the Crown was quoted as saying that "The lack of remorse and attitudes displayed by these five…is frighteningly menacing." And certainly, they would reaffirm this when one of them shared, “I have no remorse.”
The media and others would spend a lot of time debating the motives behind this, the extent to which these five people adhered to white supremacist views and the significance of the situation as a whole. Nirmal Singh Gill's body would become a battleground for our media's hesitant and squeamish refusal to call a spade a spade, a refusal that persists to this day in regard to white supremacy.
I was too young and naive about white supremacist ideas at the time to recognize the significance of that murder. However, as time went on, the more I recognized the threatening undercurrent of white supremacy, not just through the fringe groups, but as a "continuum of systemic racism within Canadian society.”
In 1998, when the five White Power members decided to murder Nirmal Singh Gill, thousands of miles away in North Carolina, Wade Michael Page, a US Army Specialist trained in psychological operations and as a Hawk missile systems repairman, was discharged for misconduct. He began to regularly show up to work intoxicated, was missing for long stretches of time, and was ultimately demoted from Sergeant to Specialist. A qualified parachutist who received several good conduct awards and a National Defence Service Medal seems to have started behaving in a manner unbecoming of someone with his credentials.
Within three years of enlisting, Wade Michael Page found himself at Fort Bragg, the massive North Carolina base that houses the 82nd Airborne Division and the Army's Special Forces Command. Fort Bragg also had a more sinister reputation:
It also served as the home base for a brazen cadre of white supremacist soldiers. Nazi flags flew and party music endorsed the killing of African-Americans and Jews. And, according to the Military Law Review, soldiers openly sought recruits for the National Alliance, then the most dangerous and best organized neo-Nazi group in the country. A billboard just outside the base even advertised for the National Alliance.
Page's stint at Fort Bragg would profoundly radicalize him, driving him to the extremities of the white supremacist movement. Stars and Stripes, the official military newspaper, writes that Page "was steeped in white supremacy during his Army days and spouted his racist views on the job as a soldier."
Surprisingly, it wouldn't be his white nationalist beliefs that would get him kicked out of the military, but rather the aforementioned intoxication.
Following his discharge, Page spent almost a decade as a musician in the white power music scene. He was active in several white power bands, gaining notoriety in white nationalist circles. In October 2011, he was inducted into the Northern Hammerskins, a local branch of the Hammerskin Nation, and given a "patch" signifying his full membership. Considered to be “one of the oldest, most violent and most dominant skinhead groups in the United States,” the Hammerskin Nation is also a more “leaner, meaner and smarter species of neo-Nazi.”
Hammerskins are hardly ever in the media spotlight. Their behaviour is conspiratorial, their structures are closed off to outsiders and remain clandestine. Public visibility, in their view, would only restrict the scope of their activities: earning profits and engaging in political propaganda and networking through right-wing rock music, making preparations for “Day X”, including shooting exercises at home and abroad, and the advancement of their political goals complete with all the consequences this entails, including right-wing terrorist attacks.
10 months after receiving his full membership into the Northern Hammerskins, Page would fulfill the full gamut of activities prescribed by the Hammerskin Nation. On July 28, 2012, Page purchased weapons and ammunition from the Shooters Shop in West Allis, Wisconsin, and according to law enforcement, “used the shop’s range.”
On August 12, 2012, at 10:30 am, Page entered the Gurdwara Sahib in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and opened fire on Sangat. The New York Times would describe him as “stalking” through the temple, massacring any and all Sikhs he came across, in what “witnesses described as a scene of chaos and carnage.” In the end, Page would murder six Sikhs and injure three others.
Wade Michael Pages' extremely active and hate-filled existence as a white supremacist was fully described in a BBC piece, which was then concluded with a cynical question distracting from the reality of what happened: "As investigators work to determine Page's motivation for the shooting, many Americans are asking the same question: why?" Similarly, this "why" would also confound Canadian journalists reporting the gruesome murder of Nirmal Singh Gill in 1998, who “‘explained away’ the event as an individual aberration.”
In a 1999 interview with the Edmonton Journal, Harry Abrams, the Spokesman of the B'nai Brith League for Human Rights, provided a much-needed interjection of wisdom, suggesting that "If we can see the evidence of how the hate groups work, and what organizations are involved, it will be very telling.” Harry Abrams was certainly right. Investigations into the White Power group would find that they had associations with "…other white supremacist groups, including the Northern Hammerskins, the Aryan Nations and the Heritage Front."
The very same Northern Hammerskins that Wade Michael Page would join more than ten years later. The very same Northern Hammerskins that would later give Wade Michael Page's violent fantasies a home. A decade later, this violent spectre would arise again.
On March 2, 2020, Sheila Hole drove her 19-year-old son, Brandon Scott Hole, to the Gun Bunker, a gun shop on Indianapolis' east side, to look at guns. Brandon would buy a .410 shotgun but no rounds. When they got home, Sheila asked her son what he was going to do with the shotgun, to which he became agitated and replied, "This is not the life I want to live, I'll end it my way," and "I am going to point this unloaded gun at the police and they will shoot me."
The next day, Sheila and her daughter headed to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department out of obvious concern. The police would then enter the Hole home, speak with Brandon, and cause him to "immediately become anxious," he would then ask the officers to "Please just turn the power strip off on my computer. I don't want anyone to see what's on it." An officer would examine Brandon's room and find white supremacist websites on his computer. His shotgun was seized, and Brandon was subsequently committed to Eskenazi Hospital for counselling.
In April 2020, the FBI investigated and interviewed Brandon, and an FBI agent told his mother that“your son hits every red flag for a mass shooter.” During that investigation, they found that he was viewing "World War II, Nazi-like propaganda," and yet they ultimately concluded that: "No Racially Motivated Violent Extremism (RMVE) ideology was identified during the course of the assessment and no criminal violation was found."
On April 5, 2021, exactly one year later, Brandon arrived at the parking lot of the FedEx Ground facility located in Indianapolis. Brandon showed up during shift change when the lot is guaranteed to be packed with employees. He would then proceed to take out two assault rifles and start firing at employees. He killed four people in the parking lot. He then moved to the facility's entrance, where witnesses said Brandon “told a white woman running towards him to get out of the way, just after having shot a Sikh man in the face.” He would kill another four and then ultimately turn the gun on himself. Eight people lost their lives.
Amrith Kaur Aakre, legal director of the Sikh Coalition, describes this massacre:
“It is clear from IMPD’s prior interaction and experience with Mr. Hole, as well as specific facts we have elicited from witnesses and victims of the April 15th shooting, that Mr. Hole went to the FedEx facility with the intent of killing members of the Sikh community.” “Given his prior white supremacist research and interest, there is no dismissing [the] fact that Mr. Hole’s methodically planned attack—during a shift change when there would be significantly more employees going in and out of the facility making them easily accessible—was carried out at a facility where he knew the vast majority of workers to be both Indian and Sikh,”
Brandon Scott Hole, a former employee himself, was well aware that most of the employees at the workplace were Sikhs. He also knew to arrive during the shift change in order to maximize the number of deaths he could cause. The massacre was carried out in a methodical and well-planned manner.
The police would conclude that the massacre was not racially motivated.
“Guru’s Khalsa’s standards shone like a brilliantly shining sun” - Panth Parkash
These harrowing chapters aren't isolated “aberrations” but rather interrelated strands in the fabric of a continuous narrative laced with threads of racial animus, intolerance, and a profoundly entrenched institutional bias that transcends time.
Just as Nirmal Singh Gill's tragic fate was sealed by the hands of white supremacists on the Surrey Sikh Gurdwara Grounds, the shadows of his memory cast a chilling backdrop to the events that unfolded at the FedEx Ground facility in Indianapolis in 2021.
The similar threads that connect these horrific stories, intertwined with associations with entities such as the Northern Hammerskins, reveal the sinister tapestry of influence weaved by white supremacy. However, the media's perplexing avoidance of the bigger narrative of these atrocities merely fuels the fires of ignorance and denial, allowing these heinous actions to persist as mysterious outliers rather than the sombre indicator of a larger problem.
The Sikh community must emerge as a symbol of strength and unflinching resolution in the complicated tapestry of battling white supremacy's threatening grip. Beyond the sphere of passive remembering, there is a compelling need to catalyze meaningful change—to turn loss into a galvanizing force and heartache into a never-ending pursuit of justice.
The requirement for the Sikh community to participate in a firm face-off against white supremacy, standing unafraid in the face of its toxic ideology, is central to our crusade. The answer ranges from the visceral thrust of direct street action, when voices melt into a chorus of defiance against hatred, to the more delicate effort of methodically identifying and unravelling the covert tendrils that continuously penetrate our community with toxic beliefs.
However, the fight against white supremacy is not limited to the chaotic streets; it is a multi-faceted war that needs a thorough study of its insidious existence inside our midst. Recognizing and removing the sneaky tentacles that weave their way into the fabric of our community is a difficult but necessary task. This necessitates a deliberate effort to unearth the subtle influences, confront entrenched biases, and clean up the traces of this poisonous discourse that aims to infect the minds of the susceptible.
The Sikh community must find the will to confront white supremacy, exemplifying the tenacity and bravery that define its identity. Beyond the world of remembrance, this pursuit is a ringing tribute to the conviction that action, in all its forms, has the potential to unravel even the most densely woven webs of hatred. The Sikh community must pave the road for a future free of the shadows cast by white supremacy's evil grasp by combining their efforts, whether on the streets or in the depths of contemplation.
In honouring those who have suffered, the Sikh community must go on a transformational journey, driving the heritage of resilience and defiance to the forefront of the fight against white supremacy. Through direct confrontation and delicate deconstruction, we as Sikhs will emerge as a guiding light, ushering in a period in which the forces of unity, justice, and understanding reign supreme, banishing the darkness of bigotry and hatred once and for all.
“I will tell you, whenever men become so corrupt and wicked as to relinquish the path of equity and to abandon themselves to all kinds of excesses, then the Providence never fails to raise up a scourge like me to chastise a race so depraved; When the tyrants oppress their subjects to the limit, then God sends men like me on this earth to mete out his punishment to them."
Banda Singh Bahadur
Jungfateh Singh is an organizer, writer and producer, and has worked on Sikh issues across the globe for over 15 years.
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